Jeff Johnson (Lynching of)

On September 15, 1869, an African-American man named Jeff Johnson was lynched near Des Arc (Prairie County) for allegedly attacking Jennie Conly, the niece of Colonel John H. Bulls. Bulls, a wealthy planter, had been in Prairie County since at least 1860, when he was living near Walnut Plains with his wife, Amanda. He served as a captain in the Twenty-First Arkansas Infantry during the Civil War and was to die of a brain disease only two months after the alleged attack on Conly. According to reports, before the Civil War, Jeff Johnson had been a slave belonging to John C. Johnson in St. Francis County. After the war, Johnson was convicted of theft in Madison (St. Francis County), but he was pardoned by the governor. Johnson was between eighteen and twenty years old at the time of the alleged attack.

On September 17, the Arkansas Gazette published an account of the incident taken from the DeVall’s Bluff Journal three days prior. Apparently, on September 13, Conly was working in the kitchen of the Bullses’ home early in the morning before the rest of the family was up. Johnson came into the kitchen, and Conly told him that he should be out milking the cows. Johnson was carrying a short piece of iron, and when she turned back to what she was doing, he struck her twice on the head, knocking her out. He then took her about seventy-five yards from the house, where he “violated her person, producing very severe injuries.” John Bulls’s nephew, identified only as Mr. Stephens, had since gotten up and discovered Johnson, but when he went to get his pistol, Johnson fled. The Gazette reported that Conly had severe injuries and was in critical condition. When news of the attack spread, local citizens, armed and on horseback, went out to find Johnson. After the September 14 account in the Journal went to press, Johnson was captured by the town constable and a posse, who brought him back to Des Arc, where he was jailed.

The same issue of the Gazette contained an update, also taken from the DeVall’s Bluff Journal. By this time Conly, although severely beaten, was reportedly out of danger; it was asserted that she had not been raped as earlier reported. According to the Journal, around midnight on the night of September 14–15, armed men took Johnson from the jail and hanged him. The Journal concluded by saying: “To those who caught and executed the criminal we give all praise, and it is sufficient to say that there is not a man in the county who does not heartily approve their action.

For additional information:
“State News.” Arkansas Gazette, September 17, 1869, p. 3.

Untitled. Arkansas Gazette, September 17, 1869, p. 4.

Nancy Snell Griffith
Davidson, North Carolina

Last Updated: 12/07/2020